We owe modern alphabets to the Phoenicians

We owe modern alphabets to the Phoenicians

History has it that they were the first ones to invent an alphabet. It contained 22 letters and had no vowels.

image credit: wikimedia.org

Why do I say we owe the Phoenicians? Well because most alphabets in the world today either derived from the Phoenician alphabet or were inspired by its nature.

The Phoenicians lived along the Mediterranean coast in what is now Lebanon. They actually inhabited a number of different city-states, the most famous of which were Tyre, Byblos, and Sidon.



History has it that they were the first ones to invent an alphabet. It contained 22 letters and had no vowels.

As far as we know the Sumerians and the Egyptians had already invented writing systems based on symbols as early as 3000 BC. However, this was not enough for the Phoenicians. They wanted something that wouldn’t be too difficult to learn and would be easy to use. Both the Egyptian and Sumerian writing systems did not meet these criteria.

The Phoenicians worked around these symbols from the Sumerians and the Egyptians to create their alphabet. They did this by realising that most words were made up of only a small number of simple sounds and that the sounds could be represented in only 22 symbols.

They went along and spread their alphabet through their trading network that stretched throughout the entire Mediterranean region. The alphabet was used not only by English speakers, but also by speakers of other languages.

The Greeks took the Phoenician alphabet and adapted it to their own Language, and later on adding vowels. The Romans also used a version of this same alphabet.

Modern Hebrew and Arabic alphabets don’t contain vowels. They were highly influenced by the Phoenician.

The writing and speaking of many languages couldn’t have been what they are today if it weren’t for the Phoenicians. A single thought to create something new and easy to use shaped the world.